How to Select a Good Tour Guide

How to Select a Good Tour Guide

How to Select a Good Tour Guide

I like to do my own thing when I travel. I haven’t booked many organized tours or utilized a lot of tour guides. Because I wouldn’t say I like one-size-fits-all experiences. That said, there are times when a tour guide makes perfect sense. Later this month, we have a two-day layover in Istanbul, so I booked one. But how do you select a good tour guide before you meet them?

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How to Select a Good Tour Guide 

I’ve booked a few tour guides for my travels. Looking back, most of the hours I’ve booked have been in third-world countries, countries under less than Democratic political systems, or long layovers like the one we took to Guangzhou, China. We booked a tour guide on our first trip to China to see the temples in Angkor Wat, cruise around Halong Bay in Vietnam, and float in the salty waters in Phang Nga in Thailand. We had fabulous experiences; I’d do them again and recommend them without hesitation. But that’s not by accident. Here are a few things to research before you hire a tour guide.

1. Are they Passionate?

Great tour guides love their jobs and country. They will treat you like a guest in their home. What separates a great tour guide from an average tour guide is passion. The latter sees it as a job, the former sees it as much more. In other words, an average tour guide is working for tips. You should seek out a tour guide willing to give them instead. Start by evaluating what they consider important to include in their website, brochures and email correspondences.

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2. Will They Customize Your Experience?

On my last trip to Bali, we didn’t keep to the major sites. Our tour guide showed us “his” Bali.  Will they work with you to customize a trip or experience? My upcoming trip to Istanbul started with a basic itinerary. I asked them to make a few changes. I want to see the major sites, but I really want to walk the streets, eat in a few cafes and shop where the locals shop too. Remember you may have to pay a little extra, but isn’t that worth getting what you really want?

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3. Eco-Friendly

Avoid tour companies that don’t have an interest in the environment they make a living from. Take a look at their website and reviews to see if they discuss their policies on the environment. I don’t want to be responsible for things like this. I want to get that amazing gram photo, but not at the expense of the environment?

4. Experienced & Licensed to Operate

Make sure they are fully licensed by the local governing authority. A great tour guide needs to have all the relevant qualifications. But they also need experience managing tours and groups. Qualifications and experience are important. However, a great tour guide is knowledgeable about the history, the landscape and the people. There’s nothing more exciting than feeling that you have an inside scoop on where the locals eat, drink and hang out.

5. Good Communication

Are they quick to respond to requests and do they have English speaking (if that’s your native tongue) tour guides? Watch how your tour guide interacts with their fellow countrymen– especially their non-coworkers. Are they kind and jovial or do they bark orders and look down on them?

6. Check the Reviews

A good tour guide is more than just historical facts and a walking translator. They need to be personable, friendly and energetic. Are there reviews available? And are they positive, say the tour operator is reliable, safe and fun? I’d be skeptical if you can’t find any information. Look for comments that let you know whether the tour guide is dry, rattling off non-stop facts. Or whether the guide knows personal stories that bring the tour to life.

7. Price 

Check around. Is the tour price comparable to other tour guides offering the same or similar services? Believe me, there is probably no free lunch (literally and figuratively) with the cheapest guide.

8. Accommodations

We don’t eat pork, but pork is a very common ingredient worldwide. Can the tour company substitute pork or seafood on the menu?

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9. Are they Accessible?

We met our tour guide in downtown Guangzhou, China instead of our airport hotel. It was the same area we wanted to have our walking tour. That gave us an additional two hours of daylight to enjoy the city. They don’t have to pick you up, however, the meeting place should be easy to get to. Or they should provide or help you attain transportation.

10. Recommendations

Could you ask your friends, family, and Facebook groups for recommendations on how to select a good tour guide? They may have information that points you in the right direction. I have referred several people to tour guides I’ve met during my travels. And because of this, they have treated people I’ve referred to them very well. Word of mouth, TripAdvisor, and blogs like mine are great resources.

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  1. Hairy

    amazing post
    I agree with your article. trekking on Gasherbrum-i k2 base camp trek, snow lake biafo hispar la trek, and Concordia trek are full of adventure treks but also a danger for life. use quality oriented trekking guide services.
    how you select the best tour guide services, you explained well in your article.gashberum is the 11th highest mountain in the world at 8,080 meters above sea level. it’s not an easy job to go there without proper tours or trekking guides services.

  2. Tiffany Haywood

    Really great tips! I have not yet started to travel internationally but I can definitely see the need for a tour. Yet, like you I would love my experience to be customized to who I am and what I want to get from my travel.

  3. jummy

    thanx for sharing this best tips. without these resources, I think the tour guides are useless. you cannot enjoy the best tour.
    this tip is helpful when you went mountains tours like k2 base camp trek, Gasherbrum-ii etc.

  4. Katie Wilson

    Thanks for the advice about how a tour guide should customize your experience. It would make sense to find someone who has a lot of experience with the city so that they can show you unique things. My husband and I are looking for a tour guide when we go on our honeymoon, so we’ll have to see what kind of unique things they would show us.

  5. Blair Villanueva

    Thanks for sharing your tips! I haven’t experienced hiring a tour guide, as we always do it our ways. As long as we have a Google map, money, and not shy to approach people and inquire, then we are good.

  6. Nancy P

    This is so helpful! I’ve traveled with and without a guide and I can tell you, it’s such a difference. I love having a guide because they know the safe and little hole in the wall places that give you unforgettable experiences.

  7. Ruth-Ann Ridley

    This is some really great advice to have a tour guide. I wish I would have enlisted their help on a couple of our prior trips we have taken!

  8. Tonya W

    Having a good tour guide when you go somewhere new is always so much fun because they can show you the ins and outs you might not know to look for. This is what I tend to do when I go anywhere.

  9. Jenn

    Istanbul looks like such fun! I would use a tour guide anytime language is an issue. Not being able to communicate effectively can have a negative impact on your ability to enjoy a trip.

  10. Athena

    I think a tour guide who is passionate about what they do is totally critical. You want to feel the experience not just hear about it. It could be a once in a lifetime experience – get the most out of it.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Exactly, you totally get it. And yes, sometimes yo never get another chance to go again, so you want to get the most out of your trip the first time.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Yup, you need a flexible tour operator, not one who embraces cookie cutter tours. You can do that yourself, you are paying fro their knowledge.

  11. swathi

    These are great tips, yes good tour guide is needed to see the places. Experience matters in selecting them. you have given lot of info that will be helpful when I selecting the tour guide.

  12. Laurence

    Honestly, this is my reason why I do my own travel, since most of the times, I end up with a not so energetic tour guide. This list is really helpful 🙂

    1. duffelbagspouse

      You have to do a little research, but good ones are out there. You just need to know what to look for. I hope with these tips, you’ll reconsider if you ever think you need a tour guide or to hire a tour company in the future.

  13. Kelli A

    These are great tips! I’ve never actually thought about what type of person the guide was.. This makes a lot of sense for getting the best “real” “raw” experience of a new place..

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Think about it. You are probably going to be spending hours with this person. Don’t you want to enjoy the experience, have fun and relax. Or do you want to go back to school, looking forward to the end of the tour or wishing you had stayed behind at the bar. lol

  14. Heather

    I never thought of making sure a tour guide is environmentally friendly, but that makes perfect sense! If they don’t care about the land they make a living off of, how passionate can they be? Great tips!

    1. duffelbagspouse

      So true, Heather. For example when we were in Thailand, our tour guide instructed us constantly not to touch the reef because it was fragile. He didn’t anchor near it. Later made offerings that we lit candles on and floated out to sea. We watched them burn out and then scooped them back up because they used metal pins to hold them together which aren’t biodegradable. Everything about what they said and did told us they loved their island, which made us love and want to protect it too.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      You’re welcome. I appreciate your support. We take some things about travel for granted until we need it. And looking for a good tour guide is just one them.

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